Of all the films I've seen recently, "Shadow of the Vampire" has to be one of the most fun and intriguing. It's funny and quirky, and at the same time it can also be horrific. This is one of those movies in which you can really get lost. It becomes more of an experience than a movie.
In 1922, famed director F.W. Murnau filmed "Nosferatu," which has come to be considered the greatest vampire movie ever made. "Shadow of the Vampire" is a fictional chronicle of that film's making. This new film proposes that Max Schreck, the actor who played the vampire in Murnau's film, was a real vampire. According to the story, Murnau hired Schreck to star in his film, promising in exchange, the film's leading lady.
John Malkovich does a great job playing Murnau, who is obsessed with completing his movie. Cary Elwes is decent as a replacement cinematographer. Catherine McCormack is good as leading lady Greta Schroeder, who puts up with the vampire until the very last second. But none can really compare with Willem Dafoe's captivating performance as Schreck.
It's amazing how good Dafoe is. Even though I knew Dafoe was starring as Schreck, and saw his name in the opening credits, I completely forgot who the vampire really was as I sat watching him. He easily steals every scene he is in.
The film is smart enough to realize how absurd the concept of a vampire is. This allows for some amusing scenes where we see Schreck as he attempts to act and even asks for makeup. This is very interesting because while the vampire is the film's comic relief, Murnau is actually the focus of its horror aspect.
As "Shadow of the Vampire" progresses, it's shocking how obsessed Murnau becomes with the film's completion. When Schreck attacks the cameraman, Murnau tries reasoning with the monster. "Why not the script girl?" he complains. The last scenes involve the director as he actually films the vampire attacking his crew. It does not really bother him that Schreck has been killing anyone. Only when it may interfere with his production does he object.
The movie has its faults, though. A lot of the sequencing is rather abrupt, and much of it seems to assume the viewer is familiar with the original movie. "Shadow of the Vampire" is a great film that easily surpasses the other pictures of its genre. It's very smart and well-written. The movie is inventive and effective, and probably one of the best horror films in years.
Tom Speller is a senior at East Aurora High School.
SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE *** 1/2
RATING: R for adult themes, vampire antics